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Haiti faces long-term mental health challenges

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Not least among the challenges millions of Haitians face in the weeks, months and years ahead are the potentially crippling mental health issues that will emerge following what one U.S. general termed “a disaster of epic proportions.”

Among the consequences of the carnage: grief, anger, bereavement, loss, stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

With so much immediate need, what can be done about the inevitable mental health challenges, a byproduct of this deadly event?

Amid the ruins

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If Haiti before the earthquake of Jan. 12 had become a near universal symbol of a dysfunctional civil society, the Catholic church, at least, stood as a somewhat redeeming example there of institutional stability.

Its churches and schools were crowded, its ministries functioned despite the chaos endemic to the poorest country in the hemisphere. The church’s connections through parishes, agencies and religious orders reached across international boundaries and were responsible for untold millions in formal and informal aid each year.

Calls for new approach in rebuilding

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When New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan tried to describe what he saw in Port-au-Prince, he said the only vocabulary he could draw on was that of faith. “I see a great deal of Good Friday, immense darkness, suffering and death, but I also see glimpses of Easter Sunday.”

For the moment, the way forward -- the glimpses of Easter -- is viewed in tiny increments: some rubble cleared, some food getting through to the neediest, securing safe haven for orphaned children; bringing order to what amount to internal refugee camps.

Haiti first person: adoption

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One family's story

When NCR reached Monica and Michael Simonsen at their home in Baltimore, the sounds of a happy baby could be heard in the background. The sounds came from Stanley Hermane, 21 months old, who survived the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti and is finally in the arms of his adoptive parents.

The couple had gone through the long process to adopt Stanley, working through A Love Beyond Borders, a registered Colorado adoption agency, and were awaiting final clearance when the quake struck. Michael managed to get a seat on a charter flight when they heard the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security was granting "humanitarian paroles" to move orphans out of the Haiti. In the meantime, Monica traveled to Ft. Lauderdale with other families to wait for the children.

The process began to snarl when, as Monica says, "Groups who were helping us in Florida began to pull out due to political pressure. Her husband arrived in Port-au-Prince to more complications. Forced to sleep in tent cities at the airport, he and the others trying to get the children out finally made it to the U.S. Embassy where they were turned away without explanation.

Protecting Haiti's children

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New Analysis

Shortly after an earthquake devastated Haiti Jan. 12, the Miami, Fla., archdiocese offered to set up operation "Pierre Pan," a program to resettle Haitian children in the United States, modeled after a similar "Pedro Pan" program in the 1960s that found homes for some 14,000 Cuban children.

The day after he floated the idea of Pierre Pan, even Randolph McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Charities Legal Services in Miami, admitted that it is too soon to focus on relocation and adoption. Haiti's immediate needs must take precedence, McGrorty told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper Jan. 19.

A later statement by the Migration and Refugee Services of the U. S. Catholic bishops' conference retracted the offer, however, and made it clear that the safety of children and family reunification are primary before bringing children here for adoption.

City tells of two Polands

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TORUN, POLAND -- This medieval city in central Poland is a split-screen picture of the wider country. On one side of the city is Radio Maryja with its daily rants about the threat that Jews, gays and the liberals in the European Union pose for Poland. Across the Vistula River, less than 2 miles away from Radio Maryja, is the Higher School of Hebrew Philology founded by a Franciscan monk. Here Catholic students learn Hebrew and study about the Jewish origins of Christianity in the hope that this will bring both faiths closer.

The sharp contrasts between the nation’s progressive youth and the far-right Catholic radio station with millions of loyal listeners is evident in this city of 200,000, known as the birthplace of the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

'I am humbled by these people'

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Haiti -- First Person

Editor’s note: Fr. Tom Hagan, 68, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, is founder of a nonprofit organization, “Hands Together” (handstogether.org), which began its work in 1985 when Hagan, then a chaplain at colleges in southeastern Pennsylvania, started taking students on visits to Haiti. Out of those visits grew a network of supporters and a respected relief organization. Hagan moved to Port-au-Prince in 1997 where he oversaw a program he had begun in Cité Soleil, that city’s largest and most desperate slum. The program is widely recognized as one of the most effective educational and health organizations in that area.

Tom Roberts, NCR’s editor at large, contacted Hagan by e-mail and asked him about his experience during the quake and his assessment of the future of Haiti and the church in that country. His response arrived by e-mail Jan. 24. With minor editing, the e-mail follows.

Homeward bound: Haiti Dispatches

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Haiti Dispatches No. 5

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Late Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 26, I sat near the main entrance of the Haitian Community Hospital, in the open courtyard that serves as the triage area where the incoming injured are evaluated and given some initial care. I was thoroughly exhausted from crisscrossing Port-au-Prince most of the day, hunting for images of destruction and humanity. I had seen much of both.

There was one scary moment when we were in Cité Soleil, the oldest and largest slum in the capital; a convoy of trucks with food rumbled down the main street causing a scene of mass bedlam as people rushed off to wherever the truck would be stopping to dispense the much-needed food. The intensity of the starving hoard of people rushing past us was frightening.

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August 29-September 11, 2014

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